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2016
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Marvel

When is a board not a board? When it's a glass, of course! Glass talking boards are beautiful when done right as is Rebecca Marvel's mirrored beauty shown here reflecting the sky. Prone to chipping around the edges, frame yours or mount it permanently on a table. A transparent board can be lit from below with diffused light for an absolutely stunning effect. If you use a glass planchette be sure it is properly padded as one slip could be unfortunate. And yes, they work just as well as the wood ones. Remember: the board is a tool. You are the medium. - December 28, 2016

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Pythagoras

This screenshot, attributed to the TV series "the Haunted Collector," tells us (all in caps) that the "Greek philosopher Pythagoras held seances using an early version of the Ouija board," The only problem is, it isn't true and we're going to tell you why, how the legend got started and why it's still reported as fact today.

James Lewis Thomas Chalmers Spence (1874-1955) was a writer on mythology and occult subjects and is probably best known today for his epic An Encyclopedia of Occultism (1920). He was so good that he created a few myths of his own - particularly about instruments for spirit communication: "Another form is the Ouija board on which in a convenient order the letters of the alphabet are printed and over which a pointer easily moves under the direction of the hand of the person or persons acting as mediums It is stated that a form of this mystic toy was in use in the days of Pythagoras about 540 BC. In a French history of Pythagoras the author describing his celebrated school of philosophy asserts that the brotherhood held frequent seances or circles at which a mystic table moving on wheels moved towards signs inscribed on the surface of a stone slab on which the moving table worked." Spence stops short of admitting he made it up by referencing an unnamed French historian. As it turns out, Spence's account is the first and only one of a Pythagorian mystic table up until that time. He also tells us that the planchette was named for a "well-known French spiritualist, M. Planchette." The word "planchette" is French for "little plank," hence the name, and there was no French spiritualist named M. Planchette, well known or otherwise. Was he making a joke at the reader's expense or was it just an embarrassing gaffe? We'll never know but the story gets even more interesting.

In 1934, Nandor Fodor borrowed heavily from Spence and published his own Encyclopedia of Psychic Science. His description of the Ouija board sounds very familiar with an interesting addition: "As an invention it is very old. It was in use in the days of Pythagoras, about 540 B.C. According to a French historical account of the philosopher's life, his sect held frequent seances or circles at which a mystic table, moving on wheels, moved towards signs, which the philosopher and his pupil, Philolaus, interpreted to the audience as being revelations supposedly from the unseen world," Now we read that Pythagoras with his pupil Philolaus held seances and officiated as seers. Although dates are foggy for this period, history tells us that Philolaus was born long after the death of Pythagoras and that he wasn't one of his students so this is not only wrong - it's impossible.

Like Spence before him, Fodor was writing unchallenged about obscure subjects. No one questioned their veracity and modern writers have been quoting them ever since. The idea that the Ouija board, or a version of it, predates the birth of modern spiritualism in 1848 is an intriguing one. There is mysticism and mystery in the belief that the ancients, who we so admire, used much the same instruments we do. It gives us and the Ouija credibility so we repeat these legends without thinking critically about them. Oh, did we mention that Ouija boards were in use in ancient China? -December 21, 2016

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TBHS

Hello everybody! Today we're announcing the grand opening of our official Talking Board historical Society YouTube channel. There should be a little something there for everyone. We have talking board snippets from movies and television to warm you up plus videos from our own Talking Board Historical Society directors. Also included are our exhibitions at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Ouijacon 2015 and the San Francisco Airport show. Use our playlists to make navigation easier. Much more to come as we are just getting started. Suggestions and comments encouraged. -December 14, 2016

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River

And now for something completely different. From TheRiverPeople comes a Ouija board with a planchette that vibrates as it touches certain letters. An electronic signal then opens a remote lock allowing you to do interesting things. How about opening a secret wall panel or triggering a spooky jack-in-the-box? There's lots of room for imagination with this setup. The board looks pretty cool but the planchette resembles a cutting block rather than what we are used to seeing on a Ouija board and I'm not quite sure what they were thinking with the tiny hole. So, more needs to be done there. We've seen gimmicked Ouija boards before but this looks to be the first that can do this. Read more about it at hackster.io. -November 30, 2016

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With the popular new TV show, The Exorcist, the question arises again: how safe is the Ouija board? It's a question we're always happy to answer. People buy thousands of Ouija boards annually and have since 1890 when they were first introduced on a large scale to the American public. Numbers go up or down but "thousands" is a conservative estimate. "Millions" during some years is more likely. Match that to the number of verifiable Ouija "incidents" and it becomes clear that you are more at risk taking a walk or falling out of bed than using a Ouija board.

Does that mean that the Ouija board carries no risk? In this life we know that everything carries risk, even the Ouija board. If you have a preexisting mental condition then you should probably stay away from the Ouija. If you take hallucinogenic drugs don't even think about it. Really. That's just common sense. But what about those Ouija sessions gone bad that we hear about? If you were thinking they couldn't all be bogus, you would be right. The Ouija board has a reputation and for good reason. Put people together doing something scary and fun, and weird stuff is going to happen. Isn't that the point? That's what we want and the Ouija thankfully obliges. But most of the time even during the scariest sessions we know that we're not in any real danger by the simple fact that we don't freak out and dial 911, like we would in an actual emergency. We may insist it's real but something inside us puts on the brakes and reason and reality prevail. Plus, we love to share our horrifying experiences with other true believers then come back and do the Ouija again no matter how frightened we are or counterintuitive that sounds. That's the fun of it. Recalling how we violated a superstition keeps our experience alive. Did we remember to say goodbye? Did we ask the wrong question? Were we respectful enough of the spirits? Was that spirit really a malevolent entity masquerading as good? Suddenly, every twist of fortune and mishap becomes an extension of our narrative. Like we said: the Ouija has a reputation.

Is this to say it's all harmless fun and entertainment? On very rare occasions, someone panics during a Ouija session and that emotionally charged state spreads to others as a kind of group contagion. That can translate into some pretty bizarre behavior. Fortunately, it's never serious and everyone eventually comes back to earth. Where it becomes more complex is when well-meaning people misread the situation and make a big deal of it due to of a lack of understanding or ignorance. That's made for some sensational headlines in the past with certain city and state officials wanting to ban the Ouija board altogether. It's also made for some interesting Sunday sermons.

This brings us to other examples that get the most publicity. There have been highly publicized cases where people with an agenda, obviously unhinged or both used Ouija boards to rationalize horrible misdeeds including murder. The Ouija became the substitute reason to do unreasonable things. Look deeper into the stories and true motivations become clear. This doesn't just happen with Ouija boards, by the way. People use all sorts of things to justify violence. Think about that for a moment.

So, should you steer clear of the Ouija board? Research shows that if you're particularly impressionable, especially with a strong religious family background - even if you don't consider yourself exceptionally connected to your religion anymore - then you may want to avoid using the Ouija board. Early indoctrination may jump up to bite you. Signs that this is happening are thoughts of seeking refuge in a church, priests (especially Catholic) and watching TV shows or movies with children who burp green and have nasty skin afflictions. Oh, and fears of being possessed by The Devil. Can't forget that. So, fair warning. If this is you and you insist on using the board anyway, best wishes and have fun. We'll see you on YouTube. -November 23, 2016

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Airport Exhibit

Flying into San Francisco on Virgin or American Airlines? Don't miss our exhibit!
Terminal 2 October 22, 2016 - May 07, 2017 -November 11. 2016

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(Note: Because the next several articles appeared over consecutive days, the oldest will be first for continuity.)

Voices from beyond the grave? Actually, yes, and we'll tell you about it but first a little background. Talking boards, in various incarnations, have been with us since the 1850s when the Fox family realized that it was easier to use a movable pointer with an alphabet board to spiritually communicate rather than by other more time consuming methods. While game companies actively marketed the writing planchette as a parlor game, talking boards remained, for the most part, with the spiritual mediums up until the Ohio talking board craze of 1886. Then, for reasons we have yet to fully discover, everyone started fabricating homemade talking boards. You just wrote down the alphabet, made a crude movable indicator and you were good to go. The fad took the country by storm. Newspapers nationwide reported on the phenomenon and what people had to say about it was pretty much what they would say if it happened today, as you might guess. Some enterprising businessmen noticed and took it to the next level: they "invented" the Ouija board. We Ouija historians have known about this for quite some time. What we didn't know were the particulars of who did what and how. We had names and could put them in the driver's seats but little else. We had patents, trademarks and conflicting articles that pointed to the culprits but without telling the full story.

Chatting one day we imagined how wonderful it would be if we could really contact the dead because that was what we needed to do and the Ouija wasn't helping. Or, was it? It's 2011 and talking board historian and super collector Robert Murch is deep into the newspaper archives of the Baltimore Sun when he comes upon a bonanza. In a letter to the editor dated November 2, 1919 is this short question: "G. G – Let me know who was the inventor of the Ouija board, and how long it has been on the market." What was to follow was a series of responses from the actual people involved in the invention and development of the Ouija board. In their own words they relate their sometimes conflicting but fascinating stories. Over the next several days I'll post them here. This is the first:

November 09, 1919 Baltimore Sun Letters To The Editor Mr. Charles W. Kennard Says He is Inventor of Ouija Board, Made in 1886 TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN – Sir: In your issue of Sunday, November 2, this question was asked in your inquiry column: "G. G – Let me know who was the inventor of the Ouija board, and how long it has been on the market. Your answer "The Ouija board was first invented by a man from the Eastern Shore of Maryland named Raeche. Two years later it was put on the market by William Fuld of Baltimore." It is evident that your informant was not well versed, or if he was, did not state the facts correctly. Like all books and other devices that have become popular, there are many claimants as to their origin. Ouija is no exception to the rule. Three parties have claimed to have originated or invented the board, while neither of them had anything to do with its conception. While the parties who did originate and patent the board have never published the facts very largely they think that it is now time to state them, so here is the story.

The writer of this began an investigation of the psychical phenomena in 1876, the Centennial year, in Philadelphia. He moved to Chestertown, Kent county, Md. in the winter of 1876 and continued his investigations. Having as a child seen the mysterious workings of the Planchette (which originated in France in 1860) and being successful in getting wonderful results from his experiments with table rappings, he thought that it would be more satisfactory if words could be spelled by the alphabet quicker than by knocks or writings, and in 1886 he made a crude board, using a cake board and a table with four legs, and a pointer marking in pencil the alphabet and numerals. Adjoining his office was a cabinet maker by the name of Reiche (not Raeche) who at the writers request made about a dozen boards a little neater in appearance than the cake board, as he could do the work better than a carpenter or the writer. I asked him to continue making them for me and we would put the board on the market. This he said he would not do. He was too busy to make any more. I would have to get someone else. The board was always being borrowed by neighbors, and those who purchased the few wanted more. Seeing the future I moved to Baltimore in February 4, 1890, and showed the board to several who could see nothing of the future in it, until I met Mr. Elijah J. Bond, of this city. He became interested, made several improvements, and had the said improvements patented, assigning one-half to the writer. We started to manufacturer at 17 St. Paul Street (the old Barnum Building), under the name of Kennard Novelty Company, sold a number of boards, and later incorporated moving to 218 South Charles Street where a large business was done.

The writer withdrew from the company in 1892. The Bond patent is No. 446,654, filed May 28, 1890: patented February 10, 1891. The name Ouija was adopted by Mr. Bond and the writer. This was registered as the trademark in the U. S. Patent Office to the Kennard Novelty Company, February 3, 1891, being No 18,919. The writer has recently invented another board known as Weird-A, talking and writing board, patent applied for, and trademark registered in U. S. Patent Office. I trust that I have made the above clear, and although others have made claim to the authorship, or invention of the patent and trade mark, I have given you the facts which are admitted to be true by many, both in Chestertown and Baltimore, who are still living.
Charles W. Kennard. Baltimore, Nov. 7

Tomorrow: LEONARD K. HIRSHBERG responds. - October 20, 2016

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So yesterday we heard from Charles Kennard who tells us his version of the creation of the Ouija board and indeed, a few days later, LEONARD K. HIRSHBERG (excuse the caps – that's how he signed his name and I just can't resist) seems to corroborate the account with this:

November 13, 1919 Baltimore Sun Letters To The Editor Confirms Mr. Kennard's Claim. TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN – Sir: The letter in THE SUN of Sunday, November 9, which proves Charles W. Kennard, formally of Kent county, who later moved to Baltimore, as the inventor of the Ouija board, is correct and can be verified by my father, Isidore N. Hirshberg, 10 North Howard street, who, with the late Colonel Bowie and Elizah (Elijah) J. Bond, helped to finance the Ouija board and Mr. Kennard's patents. I and my father still own the stock of the Kennard Novelty Company, which began marketing the Ouija in 1890. We are glad, as a matter of historical interest, to confirm Charles W. Kennard as the originator of the American Ouija, an adaptation of the English Planchette board.
LEONARD K. HIRSHBERG. Baltimore, Nov. 10.

But wait. Things are about to heat up! Tomorrow: W. Mack Reiche calls out Kennard. -October 21, 2016

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Yesterday in our "Ouija letters from beyond the grave" series we presented you with a message from one Leonard K. Hirshberg corroborating Charles Kennard's claim to the Ouija board. In 1919, everybody in Baltimore read the Sun. That included a very angry, resentful W. Mack Reiche who wrote in to set the record straight:

November 23, 1919 Baltimore Sun Letters To The Editor Why Not Ask The Spirits, Who Answer The Summons Of The Ouija Board, To Settle This Controversy? TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN – Sirs: As Mr. C. W. Kennard is making such strenuous efforts to convince the public of his being the inventor of the Ouija board, I wish to say that the first announcement, made in THE SUN several days ago, to the effect that that E. C. Reiche (my father) was the inventor of the Ouija board, is correct – absolutely! And the following statements are set forth as a final duty to his memory.

When Mr. Leonard K. Hirshberg (one of Mr. Kennard's financial backers) stated in your paper, November 10, that his father can verify Mr. Kennard's claim as inventor of the Ouija Board, he placed himself, as well as his father, in an obviously ridiculous position, for neither he nor his father ever saw, conversed with or knew anything of my father, save what was vouchsafed to them by their own co-beneficiary – C. W. Kennard, claimant to the Ouija invention. Neither has Mr. Hirshberg nor his father any corroborative evidence over my father's signature of Mr. Kennard's claim.

Then how is it possible for either of these gentlemen to certify to the genuiness of Mr. Kennard's claim? No claim can be verified on the lone word of either the party of the first part or the party of the second part: and the world is not gullible enough to swallow the testimony of any one living claimant just because the other, passed away has no means of self defense. Mr. Kennard's little coteries may be susceptible to his oral or printed influence, but I feel confident that no man (especially in Chestertown, the Ouija's birthplace) who knew Mr. Kennard and father, contemporaneously, would ever give precedence in this particular matter to the former. Father did invent the "board" – he told me so himself! However, it is possible that Mr. Kennard afterward christened it "Ouija" for father was not a conjurer. His intentions were to originate and create, not plagiarize applicable names or anything else. Just at this point several of father's inventions come to my mind. A secret ballot box, an intricate device, which registered but one ticket at a time, no matter how folded, the precinct on the ballot, giving an alarm for each register; also registering, on the dial outside the box, the resultant cast for the day. And for this box he was proffered by one of our Senators, the sum of $18,000 for the right of the patent.

Another was an instrument by which a perfect oval of any proportions could be executed instantly. Still another was a cabinet of drawers which he could lock or unlock at will, in the twinkling of an eye, but which failed to respond to the touch of any other person. Some of the best brains in Chestertown were wasted in trying to solve the enigma: and after he had passed away, one of our most skillful inhabitants spent much time, effort and caution in dismantling the cabinet, piecemeal, in order to clarify the mystery, but to this day the trick has never been turned.

If Mr. Kennard has ever invented anything outside of the Ouija fabrication it is entirely foreign to my knowledge. Of course, the exact circumstances under which the transition of the Ouija from father to Mr. Kennard can only be surmised; and the way in which Mr. Kennard pretends to have induced father to follow out his (Mr. Kennard's) ideas does seem plausible to the general layman, but I do not believe that Mr. Kennard ever entertained an idea of such a device as the Ouija until after my father's product was shown to him in the home of the late Judge Joseph A. Wickes. (Kennard's father-in-law). And that belief is confirmed by the sanction of men of the highest integrity and veracity. These men know that the Ouija came into existence through the brains and hands of father alone. Still, with all of father's inventive genius, like most (unreadable) of technique, there was one thing lacking – that business quality which carries a deal successfully over the top. Business intuitiveness below par; self boosting an unknown quantity; a nature submissive enough to turn the left cheek after the right has been slapped; meekness enough to welcome impoverishment sooner than contention, evidencing the fact that no cleverness was necessary in order to get ahead of him. With a makeup like that, is there any wonder that his rights and premises should be trespassed upon ad (unreadable)?

Yet, with all that's said and done, were father upon earth, his generosity alone would not permit even a refutation of Mr. Kennard's claim; but I, my father's son, believe that honor should go where it is due, not where concerned; therefore, I hereby declare that what ever honor and glory accompanies the invention of the Ouija board belongs to no man in the United States other than the Ouija's originator and sole inventor – my father.
Ernest Christian Reiche.
W. Mack Reiche Chestertown, Md., Nov 18

Tomorrow: Elijah Bond, the original patentee, joins the fray. -October 22, 2016

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In yesterday's letter, W. Mack Reiche insisted that his father Ernest Christian Reiche, was the true inventor of the Ouija board. His version differs from Charles Kennard's although W. Mack Reiche wasn't there and is going primarily on what his father told him. Mr. Reiche obviously isn't aware that there were talking boards exactly like the Ouija years before but we're inclined to give him a pass. We're discussing "the" Ouija board here: the one patented in 1891. So, who better to step in than the original patentee himself, Elijah Bond? Let's hear what he had to say:

December 2, 1919 Baltimore Sun Letters To The Editor More About The Ouija. TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN – Sir: For all of 60 years I have been a reader and subscriber to your valuable paper and therefore crave your indulgence of a little space in your column on a subject that appears to be of great interest and somewhat in dispute.

Some time since I read a letter from Mr. Charles W. Kennard on the Ouija. That letter is substantially correct, but I wish to add that I did become interested in a "witch board" which he had and, after making important improvements and getting it into marketable shape, identically as now manufactured, I went to Washington with a lady (a strong medium) and there demonstrated it to one of the chiefs of the Patent Office. So fully was he impressed that he assured me then and there that a patent would be allowed. After that assurance I incorporated a company, and out of complement to Mr. Kennard called it the "Kennard Novelty Company." I financed it only to the extent of $500.

So great was Mr. Kennard's energy and ability that it soon proved to be a success, and then I originated or adopted the word "Ouija," and went again to Washington and had the trade-mark registered. The company was incorporated at $30,000–3000 shares, at a par of $10 each. I retained 1,600 shares in full control of the company. For that reason I had the trademark issued to the "Kennard Novelty Company." I also took out patents in France, England and Canada. In the year 1891 we paid a monthly dividend of 10 per cent., and so it continued so long as I remained in this country, but in 1892 I went to London to exploit my English patent. That was a failure, and I had to hypothecate my stock and finally lost it. I knew William A. Fuld. He was at that time a young man and came to us as a hardwood finisher at $10 a week. Finally he became foreman of the finishing department. That was his only connection with the company. I know that he continues to manufacture the board identically as I perfected it. How he comes to own it I do not know. But it is the height of audacity for him to claim that he is or was the inventor or patentee, or originally put it on the market. These are facts of record and cannot be disputed.
ELIJAH I. (J.) BOND Baltimore, Nov. 17.

*Note: In 1919, at the time of this correspondence, William Fuld was the sole Ouija board manufacturer having taken over production from the Ouija Novelty Company formally known as the Kennard Novelty Company. Tomorrow: we wrap up this series with two letters from powerhouse attorney, financier, former manager, secretary, and treasurer of the Kennard Novelty Company and Ouija Novelty Company, Washington Bowie. -October 23, 2016

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As you can see if you've been following along, these letters to the Baltimore Sun offer a wealth of information on the development and manufacture of the early Ouija board and perhaps it's true to say that nothing in this world can happen without people disagreeing about it. That's not necessarily bad because it gives us a unique perspective into their mindsets and motivations and how people claim credit based upon personal interpretations of the truth. The Ouija board ties them together yet offers such different experiences. We have two final letters for you today from Washington Bowie. Aside from being a well-connected political powerhouse, one of his business ventures was as an original investor in the Kennard Novelty Company, which he was able to completely take over and control until he assigned all rights to William Fuld in 1919. In his own words, we read "Another Witness As To The Ouija Board:"

December 11, 1919 Baltimore Sun Letters To The Editor Another Witness As To The Ouija Board. TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN – Sir: The statement of Mr. Leonard K. Hirshberg in your issue of the 13th instant, that Mr. Charles W. Kennard was the inventor of the "Ouija" board, is as incorrect as his mention of me as the late Colonel Bowie. Mr. E. C. Reiche was the inventor of the board now called "Ouija," and was paid for it in stock of the Kennard novelty company, Certificate No. 70, dated March 20, 1891, signed by H. W. Rusk, president, and myself as treasurer. I still have the records.
WASHINGTON BOWIE. Former Manager, Secretary and Treasurer of the Kennard Novelty Company, Afterward Ouija Novelty Company. Baltimore, Nov. 14

December 14, 1919 Baltimore Sun Letters To The Editor Something More About The Devilish Ouija. TO THE EDITOR OF THE SUN – Sir: While I am adverse to publicity, I feel it is my duty to a faithful and loyal friend, who, by his own exertions, has risen from a poor boy to be a successful manufacturer, to explain some matters that I alone can do, being in possession of the records.

Much has been said lately about Mr. William Fuld being the inventor of Ouija etc. Mr. Fuld does not and never has claimed to be the inventor, but has always given credit to whom it was due, the late Mr. E. C. Reiche, of Chestertown, Md. See interview in THE SUN November 4, 1919. But he does claim that he is the inventor of improvements on talking boards and holds patents therefor, on No. 479,266 and No. 1,125, 833. His right to manufacture OUIJA was granted by me. I resigned as manager and treasurer of the Ouija Novelty Company May 1894. After a year or so Mr. Harry W. Rusk and myself purchased the assets of the company including the patents and trade mark. Subsequently, I bought Mr. Rusk's interests and afterward transferred all to William Fuld for value received. Mr. E. J. Bond states in your issue (two words unreadable) that the only connection Mr. Fuld had with the company was that of foreman, but the records show that he was one of the original stock holders, having certificates Nos. 39 and 63.

Mr. Charles W. Kennard claims to have been the inventor of the board called Ouija. See your issue November 9, 1919. The records of the company show that Mr. E. C. Reiche, of Chestertown, was the inventor, at least the directors believed he was. He came to see me as manager and treasurer of the company and objected to our using his invention without compensation. After investigation the directors (Mr. Charles W. Kennard was a director at the time) ordered an amount of stock issued to him, which was done February 16, 1891, the certificate being No. 49, which, by the way, was receipted for by Charles W. Kennard. The following month Mr. Reiche came to see me again, not being satisfied with the compensation he received and the directors granted him more stock and certificate No. 70 was issued him for which he receipted.

In 1891 we opened a branch office in Chicago, putting Mr. Charles W. Kennard in charge of it. In February, 1892, Mr. Kennard left the company and started the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company and made a board practically like Ouija, and called it "Volo". Hearing of it, I immediately went to Chicago and entered suit against his company in the United States Court for infringements of our patent. The following April the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company issued a circular to the trade stating that "it had withdrawn from the manufacture of all talking boards desiring to refer all persons wishing to purchase talking boards to the Ouija Novelty Company, Baltimore, Md, said Ouija Novelty Company being the sole manufacturer and owner of the well known talking board Ouija". This was signed C. W. Kennard, president and manager, Charles Vickers, treasurer, W. A. Boole secretary. I hope that the above, being from the records of the company, will settle the controversy.
WASHINGTON BOWIE. Former manager, secretary, and treasurer of the Kennard Novelty Company, afterward Ouija Novelty Company.

-October 24, 2016

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It's our job here at the Talking Board Historical Society to present an accurate historical portrayal of the talking board. We're a little fanatical about it. That's why when we read inaccuracies at sites like Wikipedia we go a little crazy. Wikipedia can be edited by anyone and it usually is, no accountability needed. We know that if we step in to correct an entry, some well meaning soul will overwrite us almost immediately. Such is life when opinions count as much as historical accuracy. Most articles you see on the Internet are not much better.

Yesterday an article titled "Ouija: Origin of Evil: Everything You Need to Know About the Classic Boardgame Before the Movie" by Alicia Pearce hit Nerd Block. How'd she do? Let's take a look at what she says:

"Ouija boards were first advertised in 1891."

Ads for the Ouija board appeared in 1890 not 1891. This was before Elijah Bond's patent date of February 10, 1891. A year may not seem important to the casual reader but it is significant to the historian who documents the evolution of a subject.

"Unlike most other patents, the Ouija patent doesn't exactly explain how it works (which is a key component of patents)!"

Actually it does: "The table is placed upon the board, and the hand of the operator is lightly laid or held on the table, when in a few moments the table will move and point to certain letters on the board, spelling and forming sentences, answering questions put by the operator or any other person that may be present at the time." You may quibble because it doesn't precisely say that the spirits do it but few talking board patents do. And design patents don't even go this far. We like to think of the Ouija as special but there is nothing unexplainable or mysterious about the patent.

"The origins of the name "Ouija" is a hotly debated subject."

False. This is not a hotly debated subject. It's just one people don't know very well. Charles Kennard (the first Ouija manufacturer) stated that he and medium Helen Peters, Elijah Bond's sister-in-law, named the board: "I remarked that we had not yet settled upon a name, and as the board had helped us in other ways, we would ask it to propose one. It spelled out O-U-I-J-A. When I asked the meaning of the word it said 'Good Luck.' (snip) We then adopted the word."

"Elijah Bond, had to prove that it worked in order to secure the patent. Not knowing the patent officer's name, he turned to the board, which correctly identified the name and thus the patent was granted."

Actually it was Helen Peters, the aforementioned medium who astounded the patent officer by revealing his name.

"The game wasn't considered threatening or particularly scary until the 1970s."

False. Times change but people don't. The Ouija board has always been controversial and denounced by the religious who see it as against spiritual teachings and skeptics who explain the workings scientifically. There are also those who see it as harmless entertainment. These opinions haven't changed much over time.

"When it was featured in the 1973 film, The Exorcist, Ouija became an evil tool of the devil seemingly overnight. The film scared moviegoers as it implied that one could become possessed by a demon after using a Ouija board. Soon, boards were being burned and being denounced by religious groups all over the world, tarnishing its reputation as a harmless party game."

False. The Exorcist was so remarkable for its horrific scenes involving a young girl that the Ouija scene was a minor one. It was eclipsed by the terror she endured. Reviewers of the movie didn't even mention the Ouija board. It was only over the years in retrospect as viewers became desensitized that the Ouija scene gained significance. Still, it didn't change opinions on a large scale. As to mass burnings all over the world, this is more than a little overstated. There were a few burnings but they typically included other occult items too. Earlier such demonstrations included the burning of Elvis Presley records and later ones the burning of Harry Potter books. One much reported myth is that demonstrations ended the sale of Ouija boards in the UK. In reality, it was Parker Brothers who ended the licensing to Waddingtons, UK for business reasons. It had nothing to do with demonstrations since notoriety actually boosts sales rather than slows them. As to the size of these demonstrations, you'd typically see more people at a Starbucks on any given day. So there you go. For accurate information on talking boards please Google Williamfuld.com, the Museum of Talking Boards, and The Mysterious Planchette. Or ask here. We're listening. -October 19, 2016 ·

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gold

One of the odder talking boards to come out of the 1920s was this cardboard Witchery Board created by John Vanderkamp and manufactured by the Goldsmith Publishing Company in Cleveland, Ohio. Most notable is the brass metal planchette that Vanderkamp was so crazy about that he even took out a patent. That would be design patent 56,085 should you be inclined to look it up. We're pretty sure you'll be one of the few who do. We took the Witchery for a road test because we knew that your first question would be "but did it work?" Unfortunately, not so well. As light as the planchette is, the board underneath is almost as light meaning that moving the planchette means also moving the board. Any messaging is impossible. So, this is one for collectors only. You others may want to stick to the more traditional talking boards unless, of course, you have a family member who resembles the witch. Many of us do, you know. -October 12, 2016

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make

Want to make your own talking board but lack the necessary skills? Now thanks to howtohauntyourhouse.com you can. Provided are detailed instructions along with print out paper templates that make the task easy and guarantee that you won't mess it up too badly. The result: a beautiful table that is sure to get some comments. Customize it with designs of your own if you don't like clipart skeletons. If the size is too big and you want to scale it down, that's also easy. Just make your templates smaller. Have fun and send us a picture when you are finished. We would love to see it. -August 17, 2016

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rack

So you have a few talking boards and would like to display them but not take up a whole lot of space. How about this neat idea: use a plate rack. Boards stack neatly and can be rotated in any order to display your latest favorites. The rack shown here holds eight boards easily; double that if you add two per slot. The entire apparatus has a footprint of just 18"x18". That's small enough for just about anywhere. Search plate racks at Amazon.com and take your pick. -August 10, 2016

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funny

Check out the instructions on this early automatic writer. They begin as you might expect, describing how the planchette operates, but then become unmistakably pervy when the author injects his personal fantasies into the mix. Very funny!

How to Operate Planchette

Place "planchette" on a large sheet of paper; two persons then rest their fingers lightly on the board not in anyway influencing its motion. Soon the board moves; now you ask "planchette" a question and the pencil following the motion of the wheels, writes the reply. For strong magnetizers "planchette" moves at once and for one such person it moves rapidly and writes distinctly. It will operate alone for them and better than with two persons. The hand of a lady and a gentleman form a more perfect battery to work "planchette" than the hands of two ladies or two gentlemen. A blonde and a brunette can operate "planchette" better than two blondes or two brunettes can. A man and his wife get along only indifferently well.

A man and somebody else's wife make a decided improvement. But a blushing young maiden caps the climax. "Planchette" never resists such appeals. After it is ascertained who are the proper persons to move "planchette" no end of fun, amusement, and possibly instruction, will be afforded. -August 3, 2016

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women

Compare yesterday's Victorian era photo with this Time Magazine photo shoot from 1944 and you can see how much things have changed. The pretty young women here demonstrate the start of a Ouija session by first making contact with one another by touching bare legs. The plunging neckline on the blonde doesn't hurt either. Although the later photographs are as obviously staged as the earlier one, the photographers' intents were unmistakably different. When you are selling magazines you know one thing: sex sells. -July 27, 2016

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two

One look at the current Hasbro Ouija superimposed against a William Fuld 1945 era board might have you saying, "Who shrunk the Ouija?" You'd be both right and wrong. There have been small and large editions right up until the late 1960s. One might argue that Hasbro just doesn't make a large edition and sure it's smaller than even the smallest earlier Ouija boards but does size really matter? As William Fuld once advertised about the Ouija: "It draws the two people using it into close companionship and weaves about them a feeling of mysterious isolation." So you could say that a smaller board brings people even closer - and that's never a bad thing, especially these days. Right? -July 20, 2016

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choke

Love this warning about Ouija boards on Amazon. "Warning - Choking Hazard. Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs." Now after 126 years and all the fears about Ouija boards we have to worry about choking on them too. Somewhere William Fuld is spinning in his grave, I just know it. Ok, you say, this is just like the warning "do not hold the vacuum cleaner hose close to your eye." A lawyer is just covering all the bases because lawyers know just how dumb some people can be. And, I suppose if your three year old gobbled down one of the plastic feet from the planchette, an emergency room visit might be in order although I'm sure all they would do is wait for it to come out the other end.

Speaking of the other end (and who isn't?), the Ouija reviews on Amazon are a chuckle too. My daily favorite is from Salomeon who gives it one out of five stars and complains: "This is a complete mockery to any spiritual belief. The planchette even needs BATTERIES! When I placed my hands on the planchette, the board started to move along with the planchette. That's how tough the surface is. You would need to put concious effort on moving the planchette. It's ridiculous. Absolute atrocity. This should not be considered a kid's game in the first place, because the spirit moves the planchette through your mind. This is a waste of money. Don't even bother looking at this product."

Oh, the horror. For any of you worried about the batteries and the board moving with the planchette, it's time to rejoice. Hasbro has listened and heads have rolled. The next version of this board will have a smooth surface and the previous edition's bland white plastic planchette without any batteries. Now, if they can just keep toddlers under three from choking, we'll be all set. Then we can get back to the spooky stuff. -July 13, 2016

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gloves

Is your Ouija session a little too hot to handle? How about using these super cool Ouija oven mittens (ebay-retrogeekchic (871)? No one gets burned and everyone is happy. If you are into Ouija fashion or even looking to spice up your Halloween get together or next Ouija jamboree, have a look at the handmade items on eBay and Etsy. There is something for every taste from custom talking boards to Ouija toothbrushes. Seriously. Join the Ouija renaissance! -July 6, 2016

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liz

Will the new movie Ouija: Origin of Evil be any good? We were wondering too so we asked our resident small creepy person Lizzie for an answer using her personal Schreck Dark Ouija board. If anyone knows creepy, it's Lizzie. Her answer: "there is definitely something wrong with Doris." Whether this is good or bad or what it even means we'll have to wait to find out. Those trailers do look pretty good and we'd be lying if we said we're not excited. 2016 is going to be a good year for the Ouija board, not only for the movie but for other events as well. Check back here for details. -June 29, 2016

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wall

Recently on Reddit, someone dropped this one-liner: "I found a Ouija board behind a heating vent while working in a customer's house" and this was followed by the usual ridiculous responses that one expects following such posts. Pictured was a post 1940s Ouija board obviously repurposed to block drafts - not unusual - we see this occasionally. Ouija boards are the perfect size for sealing holes when they have lost their usefulness for conjuring spirits and we sometimes hear of them being found in odd places. The Mirror, which touts itself as "the intelligent tabloid," decided to re-imagine the original story: "Workmen often have to put up with the most bizarre things while they're undertaking their day to day tasks. But this guy got the fright of his life when he discovered a creepy Ouija board hiding behind a heating vent. The boards, which have been around since at least 1100AD in China, and are said to be used to contact the spirit world - are often linked to the occult. And the discovery of this old fashioned item, believed to be at least 100 years old certainly caused this workman some concern after it was hidden away behind a wall."

The only thing remotely true in the Mirror's story was that he found a Ouija board behind a vent and that they "are said to be used to contact the spirit world." Nowhere in the original post was there mention of "a fright of his life" or that the board was "believed to be at least 100 years old." And, as we all know, Ouija boards have not been around since 1100AD in China. Oh, you didn't know that? We thought everyone did. Now it's clear we don't hold tabloids to a higher standard of reporting. We read them strictly for fun and entertainment and don't believe a single thing they say. Do we? No, of course we don't. -June 22, 2016

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lie

Recently on Reddit, a concerned hubby posted this dilemma in the relationships section: "My [34 M] wife [33 F] of 8 years uses an ouija board to talk to the spirit of her grandfather, supposedly. Said "spirit" told her I'm cheating on her. I'm not. She believes "him."

Over two hundred people responded, all driven by their personal cosmologies. Let's just point out one little thing: the Ouija board doesn't always answer truthfully. Surprised? Why should you be? If you think that answers come from the dead then why should they be anymore truthful dead than they were living? Everyone lies. Whether it's a little "white" lie, one hell of a whopper, or an unintentional misstatement of the facts, no one tells the truth all the time. What in death would change that? If you believe that no external forces are involved and it is you who are pushing the planchette then this is even more evident. The subconscious doesn't always tell the truth offering up unrealistic things for us to worry about instead, as we all know. So, the next time the Ouija board tells you something, let a little critical thinking prevail. Use common sense and don't believe everything it says especially if you feel you have to act on it. That could be a big mistake. -June 8, 2016

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snow

I know what you're wondering — how the heck do I get off this mountain? If you had one of these Burton Ouija snowboards it wouldn't be a problem plus you could actually ask it first. Legend has it that the Burton Ouija was the first true twin tip thus revolutionizing the sport of snowboarding. It was available in two sizes depending on whether you were big or small, and for the first time you could ride a snowboard "regular" or "goofy" depending on your predilections. We won't even go there even if we do like to get into the "spirit" of things. In any event, you can bet that a few talking board collectors have one of these in their collections even if they don't ride (you losers!) Come on, Joeys! Get over to the bunny hill and start those butt slides. Better shred than dead! -June 1, 2016

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A!though there have always been a wide variety of colorful factory manufactured talking boards, it wasn't until the mid 1990s with the popularity of the Internet that mainstream and outsider artists took notice and began expressing themselves by creating their own individual pieces. Many appear in art shows or on eBay for sale and may be instant collector's items depending on the quality of work. Today we'd like to do a little shout-out to Steve Pennington who, in 1996, was one of the first to take the leap with this gilded, Egyptian themed beauty that you see here. "Would'st Thy Fortune Like To See? Ask Thy Questions Carefully. -May 25, 2016

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david

If you're a David Bowie fan you are going to just love this new Bowieja Board. Sprinkled around the board are Bowie specific treats that will appeal to you in a special way (look closely) but will be lost on those not devotees. That's how it should be. It's a wonderful tribute board that captures his essence nicely. All that remains is for you to ask him directly to see what he thinks. Ground Control to Major Tom: are you listening? -May 18, 2016

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esp

"Be your own researcher! Discover all about ESP for yourself!" read the advertisement for the Olympia ESP board (1967). The Olympia ESP board was a family collaboration between record mogul Ervin Litkei, his wife Andrea and father-in-law, Nandor Fodor - that author on all things mysterious. Together they capitalized on the extra sensory perception craze of the sixties taking advantage of the interest and research going on at the time. Extremely cheap at under $5, the board came with a booklet by Andrea describing "absorbing, paranormal tales of famous persons" and a 45 rpm record with an original recording by Ervin to "ESP by." Also included was an instruction booklet. Maybe the only miss on this attractive and beautifully packaged talking board was the ridiculous plastic hand finger pointer which was overly large and difficult to use. Still, The Olympia ESP board is a wonderful and classic addition to any collection of talking boards. -May 11, 2016

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look

Has seeing ghosts through the window of a planchette become popular after its introduction in the movie Ouija (2014)? The answer is no, thankfully. Most who discuss this on popular media find the idea ridiculous and this is because it is so easily tested: look! No ghosts. Not quite as easy to dismiss are superstitions or "Ouijastitions" as we like to call them like "never play alone" or the "Ouija creates wins for the user causing progressive entrapment" —Witchboard (1985). Therein lies the skill of the movie maker: make up something that plays upon fears yet cannot be easily tested. In this way, apprehension has time to steep, bypassing rational thinking. What Ouijastitions do you think you might have? Be truthful! -May 4, 2016

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Janice

Actress Janis Paige and husband Frank Martinelli examine the instructions for a Hasko Mystic board in this 1949 photo. Haskelite manufacturing was the most prolific talking board manufacturer after William Fuld. These boards included the Mystic Tray, Mystic Board (Egyptian), Hasko Mystic Board (blue zodiac border). Hasko Mystic Board (green zodiac border). and Hasko Mystic Board (black zodiac border). There were large and small versions of each except the Mystic Board (Egyptian). Conveniently, the smaller boards came with smaller message indicators. All are still widely available today and can be found on eBay with a little patience. -April 27, 2016

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pink

In 2008, Hasbro released the pink Ouija board for girls and answered the subject once and for all: does Hasbro market the Ouija to children? Yes, they do and quite successfully, as a matter of fact. The game came complete with a plastic purse, board, planchette, and cards with queries like "Ouija Board, are you real?", "What cartoon character do I resemble?" and "What is my worst habit?" These questions, perhaps, were best left to members of the religious right who were horrified by the assault on youth according to that bastion of fantasy, Fox News: "There's a spiritual reality to it and Hasbro is treating it as if it's just a game," said Stephen Phelan, communications director for Human Life International, which bills itself as the largest international pro-life organization and missionary worldwide. "It's not Monopoly. It really is a dangerous spiritual game and for [Hasbro] to treat it as just another game is quite dishonest. Phelan also noted that the pink version of the game is explicitly marketed to young girls who may want to partake in "something dangerous" during a late-night sleepover." One shudders at the trouble young girls get into when they "partake in something dangerous" during sleepovers but that's a topic for another discussion altogether. Nevertheless, the Pink Ouija sold well, sold out and now sells as a collectible on Amazon. -April 20, 2016

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ufo

Think that you can only contact the dead through your Ouija board? You might be surprised to learn that some users report communicating with extra terrestrials from space. You heard me right. That's "outer" space although some may remark that it's really inner space they are contacting. Nevertheless, what better way to contact aliens than with this super cool Area 51 board from Portals to the Beyond? I can almost hear the whir of the saucers now. By the way, if you are into UFOs, the entire two seasons of The Invaders (1967-68) is on YouTube for your viewing enjoyment. Maybe binge watch it during your next Ouija session. That would be a first, don't you think? -April 13, 2016

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honda

As you know if you've visited the Talking Board Historical Society before, the Ouija board has a strange way of possessing people and it's not always the way you think. Take this Mystifying Honda for example. Your first question might be, "what possessed the owner" before slapping yourself in the head for being so clever. But just look at it! We happen to think it's amazing and so much more original than a boring OUIJA personalized license plate because you know there are at least fifty of those running around. If you are wondering where the planchette is, look on the dashboard. It's right where it needs to be when the officer pulls you over and asks for your license, registration, and planchette. Notice the people images on the side panels. Maybe they prevent a broadside. Yes? No? Goodbye? And here is an interesting factoid: nearly 50,000 Hondas were stolen in 2014 and guess what? This one wasn't among them. Not that we'd suggest a Ouija motif for your car. Oh, but wait. Yes we would. You would expect nothing less from us. -April 6, 2016

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Can you use a tarantula as a planchette? Yes you can if you have a totally fake rubber one like we do. Actually, anything that is small, light and slides easily can take the place of the traditional heart shaped pointer opening up endless imaginative possibilities. And while we are on the subject, the proper name is "planchette" (plan-'shet) from the French word for "little plank." Some believe that the actual inventor's name was Planchette. Wouldn't that be a coincidence? If French is hard for you, call it a message indicator or pointer. Never call it a carriage, center dome, cursor, do-hickey, doo-dad, eye, fulcrum, glide, glider, guide, heart, letter finder, locator, marker thingie, marker, mover, paddle, palmier, plachet, plank, plaque, planchard, plantain, platent, plinth, receptor, shuttle, slider, seer, spade, speaker, stylist, stylus, triangle, or trivet. People might snicker, And whatever you do, never, EVER call it a "puck" because a puck is a . . . oh, go look that up for yourself. - March 30, 2016

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elcaro

People often mistake games like Consult Elcaro (1914) and the Mystiscope Fortune Teller (1925) for talking boards.They aren't. A talking board is a message board with numbers, letters, and a movable message indicator. The message indicator, touched lightly by one or more persons, slides or pivots along the surface of the board to spell out words. Hence, the name "talking board." There is debate about whether the messages come from supernatural entities or are a form of psychological phenomenon originating from the players. Boards using pendulums, fixed spinners, or rolling balls, are not technically "talking boards" although they may have the same result from a fortune telling perspective. Talking boards are also referred to as Ouija boards, witch boards, spirit boards, or oracle boards. The name "Ouija" is a registered trademark for Hasbro's talking board set. -March 23, 2016

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believe

When talking boards first became popular, they were met with acceptance, horror, and skepticism, just like today. This 1889 letter (excerpted) from a cousin to Mrs. Aaron Thorpe is a classic "Mary, it's not that we don't believe you" response.

"Now Cousin Mary, I hope you will not feel offended at our frankness, for while we do not in the least doubt your honesty and sincerity in your belief, we do not hesitate to say that it seems a great mystery to us all and it will take very strong proof to convert us to this faith. Please explain these "talking boards." Of what are they made? When and by whom were they first used? You say that sister Martha always spells out her name to let you know that she is there to guide your hand. How is it done? Enclosed you will find a letter for Martha, and if it is possible I wish you would send the reply without reading it. Not that I have any objections to your knowing what it contains but it will be more convincing to me than spirits can return to their Earth friends." -March 14, 2016

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scarab

Have a favorite old board collecting dust in a closet somewhere? Maybe it's not in the best shape but it has that certain atmospheric something. How about sticking it in a frame and decorating some wall space? You know people are going to talk about it. Big area of the design damaged or missing? No problem. Find something interesting on eBay to cover it. Case in point: this funky Egyptian scarab that covers an area of lost paper on this classic Haskelite Egyptian Mystic board. When your friends comment, offer to take it down to conjure King Tut or Cleopatra. Why not? -March 9, 2016

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psyche

Collectors always get excited when a new (to us) talking board surfaces. Just when we think we've seen them all, one pops up and the information hunt begins. We simply must know all about it. It's a crazy collaboration but it's what we do.

Some of us are a little crazier than others but either way, it's always an interesting journey. We separate our data into what we know, what we don't know and what we think we know. We speculate a lot. Speculating means little and sometimes comes back to bite us but we do it anyway. We can't help ourselves. The journey includes searching old newspapers, magazines, patents, trademarks, talking to relatives of manufacturers and just about anything else you can imagine including calls to libraries, schools and other institutions who may be able to help. Some research is easy — the Internet is a wonderful source for patents and old newspapers. It's amazing what you can find with a little patience.

Trademarks are difficult because there is no online database that goes back beyond a few years so that means finding a source then going through entries one by one. It's painstaking work that causes double vision and migraines but, as I said, we do it anyway. Case in point: this Psyche talking board recently found in a Eugene, Oregon attic. A quick search turned up nothing. There was no apparent information available either online or in our extensive personal databases. The label on the back of the board was unreadable and shredded. Time to speculate. Look — there is Psyche or a poor representation of her in the middle of the board. She is holding something. Maybe it's a knife or a club; maybe it's a torch of some kind. Now if you remember that convoluted Greek myth, or if you just looked it up like I did, you know that Psyche was into a weird sex trip with her boyfriend Eros. Among other kinky things having to do with impregnating her and poking her with arrows, he refused to appear except in the dark. Convinced he was really a monster — you can't feel a monster in the dark - she tried to see him with an oil lamp while he was sleeping but dripped hot oil on his skin by mistake causing him to awaken and fly away in a rage. He had wings, if you were wondering.

Anyway, what does this have to do with the board? Almost nothing. As I mentioned, we speculate about everything. At least now we know she was holding an oil lamp and it ended badly. Score one for us. And that's all we had - until just recently. Super collector and Chairman of the Board, Bob Murch was spending his night much the same as he spends his other nights, researching talking boards. He was reading trademarks hoping for something on Charles Kennard's elusive Weird-A talking board when suddenly he saw something strangely familiar: it was the trademark paperwork for the Psyche talking board and just like that, Psyche became a whole lot less mysterious. Is there more to find out? Yes, of course. But thanks to Bob, we now we know that the Psyche started production in 1919, the brainchild of one Catherine C. Turner a resident of Spokane, Washington. Census reports her as only 19 at the time so that's an interesting surprise. We're off and running. That's the power of crazy collaboration. That's the way we do it. -March 2, 2016

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heart

Sex! Now we have your attention! The best of the cut-to-the-chase talking boards has to be the Mystic Heart by Relationship Enrichment Systems (1994). You and your partner(s) choose a topic by using the handy spinner then explore it more completely in the traditional manner with the Mystic Heart planchette. Watching over the proceedings are David and Venus to guide you or to maybe just watch. I don't know and neither will you since their private parts are nicely covered up. Traditional symbols like the Zodiac and four elements decorate the board although you might not notice as you get to the more serious purpose of the session, which should be very short if it is at all successful. If you are lacking a companion, you can play with yourself, if you are inclined to do that sort of thing. That old myth about never playing alone doesn't apply here and you won't turn into a werewolf no matter what the nuns told you. If you are excited to give this one a try, the Mystic Heart is still available on the Internet with a little searching. Do report back your successes. -February 24, 2016

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symbols

A question we frequently get is "What do the symbols on the Ouija board mean?" Today we are going to choose Hasbro's current glow-in-in-the-dark Ouija to discuss exactly that. Perhaps you think that's an odd selection considering all the others we might have picked but maybe not and here's why: this design version, with minor changes, has been in production for over 70 years making it the all time reigning champ of Ouija boards. Other designs come and go but this one is here to stay. It's as classic as they come.

Talking board historians think that the early manufacturers, all established Masons, borrowed the sun and the moon from Masonic symbolism. Looking at aprons and other Masonic objects where the sun and moon appear almost exactly positioned, it's hard not to accept this conclusion. The only difficulty is that the original patentee, Elijah Bond, describes the sun as a full moon and it was only later that it was changed into a sun. Still, the idea that these symbols came from Masonry, whether intentional or not, is hard to overlook. Regardless, it's safe to say that the sun and moon echo symbolically the positive aspects of "YES" and the negative of "NO." Although it is clear what the "YES" and the "NO" mean (especially in today's world) and that the alphabet and numbers exist to spell out messages, the "GOOD BYE" may cause confusion. Participants sometimes think that this is where you place your planchette to "close your board" when you end your session. The idea that not "closing" your board might cause spirits to linger is a rather recent one and has no historical reference before the 1970s. The GOOD BYE is simply there to signal the end of a session much like hanging up a telephone. If the planchette repeatedly cycles to GOOD BYE or goes off the board at the middle bottom, the sitting is over. Try again later.

In both lower corners of the board we see spooky seances. William Andrew Fuld first put these images on the 1930s electric Mystifying Oracle and then on the 1940s Mystifying Oracles and finally the Ouija board where they became permanent fixtures. The original illustrations were wonderfully detailed but have over time become less distinct. The meaning they seem to communicate is that this is a very weird board game. They are showing you how to participate, if you dare.

Lastly we would be remiss if we didn't discuss the word OUIJA. Described almost everywhere until recently as being a combination of the French "Oui" and the German "Ja," the real origin of this word is much more interesting, Charles Kennard, the original manufacturer, stated that he named the new board Ouija after a session with Helen Peters, Elijah Bond's sister-in-law: "I remarked that we had not yet settled upon a name, and as the board had helped us in other ways, we would ask it to propose one, It spelled out 0-U-I-J-A. When I asked the meaning of the word it said 'Good Luck.' Miss Peters there upon drew upon her neck a chain which had at the end a locket, on it a figure of a woman and at the top the word 'Ouija'. We asked her if she had thought of the name, and she said she had not. We then adopted the word. There were present Mr. Bond, his wife, his son, Miss Peters and myself." -February 17, 2016

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scrabble

Strange but true (?) Ouija tales: Inmates in a California county jail spooked themselves into near hysteria after using a Ouija board fashioned from a Scrabble set. The prisoners, all hardened Latino gang members from southern California, believed that they were possessed by the devil and caused such a ruckus that officials had to call in a priest to perform an exorcism. An amazed official for the Santa Clara County jail system remarked on the ingenuity of the inmates: "On the back of a Scrabble board, they created the moon and the sun and the letters—all the components of a Ouija board," he said. The prisoners vowed never to dabble in such things again. -February 12, 2016

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test

You may be familiar with the experiment: blindfold the participants during a Ouija session and the Ouija no longer works, proving presumably that there is nothing supernatural about the Ouija board. If you are new to this and watch television you might think that this test originated with Penn and Teller for their TV series but it did not. Blindfolding mediums is an old practice dating back to the 1850s.

There is just one problem. It's a flawed experiment and here's why: you may not think that you are moving the message indicator but you are. To confirm this, place your planchette in the center of the board and wait for it to move without touching it. Notice that it is now three weeks later and the planchette still hasn't moved. This is, of course, unless you are in a Hollywood movie or hallucinating or maybe own a cat but that's a subject for another discussion. So, yes, you are pushing it but is it you or is it with the help of the spirits? This is something that the aforementioned experiment doesn't adequately address.

Spiritualists believe that during the séance, you are in a light possessive state and that the spirits work through you guiding your hands on the planchette. These entities, whatever they are, need your eyes to see the letters and your hands to guide the message indicator. Blindfold the medium and you've effectively rendered the session impossible. Imagine if you were to test baseball by blindfolding the players. The real question and the unanswered one by all of this is whether there is life after death. That's the big question. If you believe there is, then anything is possible including spirits guiding you though the Ouija. If not, then you are in the opposite camp. You are going to need proof and that is impossible to get in something that is faith based. For you, motor automatism as an explanation has to suffice. -February 5, 2016

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directions

The idea is a simple one: you and a friend touch the planchette and it mysteriously moves from letter to letter to spell out messages from unknown entities. The planchette appears to have a mind of its own, or is the board? Some say it's the spirits, others say it's the user's own subconscious movements.

The Ouija board is controversial and not the least apologetic about it. But the number one argument with the Ouija board isn't why or how it works, it's that many times it doesn't work at all, especially if one tries it without a partner. Fortunately, with a little information and practice almost anyone can use a talking board, and that includes the majority of you who have tried before and failed. It's important to mention that the success of your séance—that's what we call a Ouija session, depends entirely upon your attitude and how seriously you approach the matter. This is as true today as it was when William Fuld cautioned against "asking ridiculous questions and laughing over it," and it bears repeating.

Decide first what you would like the Ouija board to do for you. Ouija boards have an interesting way of reflecting the mental attitudes of the users by responding accordingly. If you want it to act wacky, or have it scare your pants off, the Ouija will not disappoint. If, however, you are looking for a meaningful experience, the Ouija board can offer that also. It's completely up to you. Gaining any new skill requires practice and patience. This is as true for talking boards as it is for bicycling or juggling. We are amazed at the people who try the Ouija for all of about three minutes then loudly proclaim, "it doesn't work!" Imagine if you tried to drive a car that way. If at first you don't succeed, give it a rest then go back and try it again. Expect it to take a little while. Make sure that your surroundings are conducive to a good Ouija session. There should be no distractions or interruptions of any kind. Turn off the television and radio. Get away from the screaming kids, friends, whatever. Good places to use Ouija boards are bedrooms, closets, cozy attics, empty fields under the stars, cemeteries, lonely wind swept beaches, just about anyplace where it is private and quiet.

Opening and closing rituals are neither essential nor necessarily traditional but they might enhance your Ouija experience, particularly if you enjoy ceremony. Regardless of what you may have heard, there is no "one true way" to ritualize. Your "own true way" is best. Recite poems, speak power words, intone spirit invocations, or sing songs that are meaningful to you. Surround yourself with candles if you're so inclined. Above all, "personalize" your session. If you want to cover your board with amulets to protect yourself from the "unfriendlies," go ahead and do it. There are no rules to the contrary. Do whatever gets you in the mood. No mind altering chemicals, though! Wear something comfortable yet special to the occasion.

Sit with the board balanced securely on your lap or on the table before you. Make sure you have adequate back support so that you don't topple over at an inopportune moment. Place your fingertips (index and middle) lightly on the planchette. Take a quiet moment to empty your mind of unnecessary thoughts. Relax your body and mind. This is more about revelation than concentration. No need to get all knotted up inside. Spirits don't bite . . . much. Ask the Ouija: "Is anyone there?" or ask an intelligent question out loud. This is more important than it seems. You can't expect whatever entity you are addressing to respond if you don't ask properly. As obvious as this is, you would be surprised at the number of people who sit with the Ouija and just stare at the board. Asking questions of the board is what it's all about. Not asking and expecting an answer is like standing at a neighbor's door and not knocking. Not much happens and you get chilly waiting. With your fingers in the proper position, give the planchette a few moments to work by itself.

If nothing happens or it acts "asleep," very lightly slide it around the board in a circular motion. Now here comes the tricky part, so listen up, especially if you plan on working without a partner. As you are circling the Ouija, try to distance yourself mentally from the movement on the board. In other words, try to be a spectator as the planchette moves through the letters. You're supposed to be watching things happen—not making them happen. That "other something" is supposed to kick in right about now and you don't want to be consciously forcing the planchette. It's a conscious-unconscious state that you are trying to achieve and it's going to take a little practice. It's like rubbing your belly and patting your head—you have to learn to do it without thinking, otherwise you'll get all mixed up. And don't over analyze this technique. This isn't some arcane mumbo-jumbo we're talking about here. It's a simple mental skill that's very easy to learn. You probably do it already when you drive your car or peel a potato. You don't think consciously about the details as you're performing every little movement.

Once you've distanced yourself properly, you're going to get the "feeling" that the planchette "wants" to stop at certain letters. This "feeling" isn't a bolt from the blue; rather it's a subtle, intuitive thought that "this is the right place to stop." Let this happen and be sure to remember the letters. Beginner sessions sometimes move very slowly. If you think you may have difficulty remembering, it's perfectly OK to take notes using a pencil and paper. You may wish to do this anyway. The Ouija board doesn't always use perfect language and may return abbreviated words and phrases and even misspellings. Nonsensical expressions and sentence fragments may have meaning when you think about them and view your notepad later. After you've gained some expertise, your planchette will fly around the board and you will have no trouble understanding the messages. Remember that we said to glide the planchette "gently." You can't be ham-fisted about this. Use just two fingertips (index and middle) of each hand. If the planchette repeatedly cycles to the pictures on the board or returns complete gibberish, traditionally this would mean that the board is not cooperating, "try again later." It also may mean that you are simply not in the right frame of mind or are trying too hard. "Try again later," is what you want to do.

It's important to mention that the "mysterious nature" of the Ouija board isn't always mysterious or even very obvious to some of us. Beginners are sometimes perplexed when the message indicator sits there like a stone and refuses to glide merrily to and fro around the board. Sometimes the planchette needs a little help and this makes sense when you think about it. If the planchette was so terrific at moving by itself then it wouldn't need you or anybody else touching it. If you subscribe to the spiritualist theory, the spirit presumably needs a "vessel" with hands to move the planchette and eyes to see the letters. If you're an ideomotor theory believer and think you're moving it subconsciously by yourself, the same thing applies. That subconscious of yours might need a little conscious help. Otherwise it may stay un-conscious for quite a long time. So it's completely acceptable to give the planchette a little push. With practice, the planchette will spell out coherent messages. When we say, "practice," we mean practice as in "do it over and over." If you give up after twenty minutes, you're not going to have much success with the Ouija, or with anything else for that matter. Try it for thirty minutes a day for two weeks. Good luck and happy Séance. –January 27, 2016

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possessed

Are you possessed by your talking board? Maybe a little more than you think. Although Hollywood presents possession as a mindless, crazed state complete with disgusting special effects, in real life it's much more subtle: it's that odd emotional collusion between you and the Ouija board during a session that allows the transmission of messages. And this is true whether you believe the messages come from external entities or from within via involuntary and unconscious motor behavior. It's the same either way. This condition is absolutely necessary if the Ouija planchette is going to move mysteriously.

But there is another form of possession that we don't often talk about and while it doesn't have an entry in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders there may be more than a little truth to it. If you are enjoying your time with your talking board in a healthy way and you find it to be a rewarding experience, perhaps bettering yourself artistically or as a personal growth tool, that is all well and good. Maybe you are a collector who loves the history, lore, and tradition of talking boards. Maybe you just like to get together with your friends for a sociable session every now and then. That's fine. Knock yourself out. But there is a dark side also where personal demons come out to play and that brings out the worst in people — maybe even you.

If you find yourself defined by your talking boards or believe that your identity and personal worth is dependent upon what you perceive others think of you and your Ouija or talking board related activities, then you are in serious trouble. Let's not argue about whether it's the Ouija's fault. One characteristic of this kind of possession is that it's never your fault. It's always someone or something else's. So, if you're freaking out over eBay auctions, not playing well with others, bombing on social media and find that blame is the main weapon in your holster, take a step back and have a long look in the mirror then leave the talking boards for others. It's time to try something else. -January 20, 2016

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tabby

-January 17, 2016

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Merrill

James Merrill, writer and poet, composed his epic trilogy, The Changing Light of Sandover after long sessions on a homemade Ouija board with his partner David Jackson. Did his inspiration really come from the spirits, as some claim, or was the Ouija his personal instrument for creative expression? Although the Ouija often represents the darker side of life, it also serves to inspire and direct. This is such an example. Talking boards don't have to be old or exotic to work as Merrill-Jackson's simple alphabet board and inverted teacup shows. They are tools of the artists. Like with a painter's brush, what you get depends on who is doing the painting. -January 13, 2016

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plath

Married poets Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were almost as famous for their turbulent personal lives as for their poetry. Despite Ted's failure to commit and Sylvia's chronic depression, they complemented each other in ways that only such artists can. They regularly held seances with a Ouija board and it provided poetic inspiration as well as the more mundane results of weekly football matches. To the question, "Shall we be famous?" the Ouija answered for Sylvia: "Fame will come. Fame especially for you. Fame cannot be avoided, and when it comes, you will have paid for it with your happiness, your husband and your life." The Ouija was eerily correct on all counts. After the couple separated, Sylvia committed suicide. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry posthumously. -January 6, 2016

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